Thursday, November 6, 2008

For Sue

For those of you who knew her, Sue Menkedick lost her six year battle with cancer on November 1--my sweet sister-in-law, the wife of John's brother Bill, the mother of my niece Kerry, the grandmother of Annalise and Ben. I miss her. She was a funny, warm person with a generous nature. I always enjoyed seeing her when our families got together. We would compare notes on our kids and grandkids, admire each other's house and outfits, and compliment each other on whatever recipe was on the table. Simple things, some might say surface things, but the current beneath the talk was always loving and accepting and supportive in a very female way. Sue and I were different in many ways, had different tastes in our decor and our clothes and our jewelry--the surface things in life. But we were very similar in that we wanted to be happy. We wanted to love our families and our life. We wanted to make a cozy home that we enjoyed being in, wanted to raise our kids to be good people, wanted to enjoy our grandchildren, wanted to remember always what was underneath the surface of everything we had and did in life. We saw that in one another and that's what we responded to and built a relationship on.

I had a conversation with Sue a few weeks before she died. We dropped the small talk and got down to what we really wanted to say for a few moments. We both agreed that everything that happens to us is supposed to be for a purpose, that it has a meaning, that we chose it somehow--even if all of that is indecipherable in the present moment. "Sometimes I wonder, what the heck was I thinking?" she said to me in response to this mystery. What kind of lesson was this that couldn't have been learned in another way? What kind of "gift" was this? And can we take it back? There are no answers to those questions, only the asking of them, and sitting with the feelings that arise when you give in to their mystery.

I can tell you one gift that I received from Sue's ordeal. It was the gift of being able to contemplate this mystery with her. To sit for a moment and feel the enormity of a life. To be able to tell her, "I'm going to miss you." She allowed me to do that. She honored me by letting me feel what is really important in life in her presence. I am not suggesting that the reason she died was so that I could have this gift, but I am saying that she gave me this gift as she was dying. And I will carry it with me always.

In the past, I have responded to death with pessimism about life. Why bother? None of this matters if we all die anyway. But Sue gave me a much richer and more mature response to death. She reminded me how lucky and blessed I am, and that I shouldn't take anything for granted. She reminded me to love my life because of death. Love my life even more. Live it as fully as I can possibly handle in as many moments as I can remember to. That is what I hear Sue telling me to do. That is what I will think of whenever I think of Sue.

I really do feel that she cavorts with angels. It seems to me that angels have that kind of energy--an energy that doesn't deny the problems of life, but responds to those problems with a deep and abiding sense of generosity and helpfulness and love.

She told John and me to enjoy our new home and that she would be keeping up with us, just from a different perspective. I believe her. And I am so grateful for her presence in my life.